India further strengthens its defence along Chinese borders

India further strengthens its defence along Chinese borders

A tunnel nearing completion in the Indian Himalayas will slash by hours the time it takes troops to reach the Chinese border, part of an infrastructure blitz by New Delhi that is gathering pace since a bloody border clash.

The nuclear-armed Asian giants blame each other for a brutal high-altitude battle in June that left 20 Indian soldiers dead and an unspecified number of Chinese casualties.

Both have sent massive troop reinforcements, but India has also stepped up its activities behind the frontlines — belatedly so, analysts say.

Its stepped-up infrastructure programme includes roads and bridges as well as high-altitude helipads and airstrips for civilian and military aircraft.

The showpiece is a $400-million tunnel in Himachal Pradesh state, providing an all-weather route for military convoys to avoid a 50-kilometre trudge through mountain passes that are snow-bound in winter and subject to frequent landslides.

From late this month, what used to be a four-hour, winding, high-altitude crossing will be cut to a 10-minute dash through the mountains in the state-of-the-art tunnel.

“There have been times on the pass route when vehicles have broken down, causing traffic jams of even six to eight hour,” said Lieutenant-General Harpal Singh, head of India’s Border Roads Organisation (BRO).

“This tunnel and the other infrastructure plans change a lot for the troops,” he told *AFP*. Engineering feat

Labourers are working overtime to get the tunnel ready before Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due to open it later this month.

Currently, essential items such as arms, ammunition and food have to be transported up in bulk before winter starts in an area where temperatures can plunge to minus 40 Celsius.

Constructed at an altitude of more than 3,000 metres and stretching nine kilometres, the Atal Rohtang tunnel is also a feat of engineering.

A decade in the making, freezing winter temperatures meant work could only take place from April to September. Workers wore special microchips to help locate them if they got trapped in an avalanche.

Still, India’s efforts only belatedly mirror those of China, experts say.

“Earlier administrations wasted two decades,” said Harsh Pant, from the Observer Research Foundation think-tank in New Delhi.

“China, and its infrastructure, is much stronger today.”